It’s Christmas day. 10-year-old me is feeling pretty confident the gift I bought for my father is going to be something he enjoys. Underneath the artificial Christmas tree decorated with homemade ornaments lies Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em 16, wrapped nicely with assistance from my mother.
Like all families, we had a tradition. The tradition was that, every year, my dad would receive the newest edition of Don Cherry’s short film, showcasing all of the best hockey highlights from the year before.
He had every single Don Cherry film, which included those released on VHS. Even after VHS tapes became obsolete, you could catch my father, coffee in hand, watching some of the biggest plays from 1991, 1993 or 1998.
Fast forward to May 14, 2011. Disaster struck. The Sky was on Fire.
I remember it distinctly. I was, at the time, at the town’s skateboard park, enjoying a nice Saturday off from school. High school exams were around the corner, but I wasn’t about to let that spoil my weekend.
A crystal-clear blue sky accompanied a strong wind. The wind made it difficult to skateboard. I had been trying to learn how to frontside boardslide for the past couple days, and as I was learning my ribs made a deep and intimate connection with the handrail. Things were not going well.
I glance over to the east, where five kilometres of 100-year-old forest separated myself from our home. In what appeared to also be approximately five kilometres east was a big light-grey cloud expanding in the sky. There was an elephant in the room, and I instantly felt as if the worst was yet to come.
My parents’ house, along with my grandmother’s house, were the first to burn to the ground. My father, working night shift the night prior, awoke to firefighters banging on the door, ordering him to get out immediately. I’m happy to say that all living things, including our dog, made it out successfully.
The rest of our items, however, wouldn’t be so lucky.
Fast forward to December 25, 2011. Our first Christmas since the fire. Our living situations had finally become somewhat stable, after moving from hotel to friend’s house to a holiday trailer.
Here’s where the truly special story begins.
Cherry’s Special Gift
I’d like to take a brief moment to show my appreciation for all of the things regular citizens had/have done for all of the victims of the fire, it truly means a lot. However, this one by far meant the most to my family, specifically my dad.
A few months prior to Christmas, my mother took a complete shot in the dark. She scoured websites and sent emails to the CBC, explaining our situation. She was simply asking when there would be a box set for the films in which my dad cherishes: Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Hockey. She had no idea what would come out of it.
The email she sent put her into contact with CBC’s Doug Dirks, host of the Homestretch on CBC radio in Calgary. After a series of emails back and forth, Dirks knew he could make something happen for our family.
We received a package in the mail a couple of months later.
My mom told me what it was, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it.
I was amazed.
In the box was four different films from Cherry (4,5,7 and 10). If anybody followed the series, they would know that the first DVD wasn’t released until number 10. That’s right. Four VHS tapes (10 was also released on VHS) were in the box, signed personally by Grapes himself.
These tapes appeared to be from a personal collection of sorts; the edges on the boxes were frayed with good use, and they simply don’t make VHS tapes anymore.
My mom thought this was the perfect gift for her husband, a man that enjoys three things: coffee, the Beatles, and Don Cherry. Both myself and my mother were extremely excited about the unique present waiting patiently underneath the newly-purchased Christmas tree.
When the gift was unwrapped, a smile similar to the Grinch’s (though a lot less evil) stretched across my father’s face. I’m not sure whether he was more shocked about the gifts or that my mom went through all the trouble of tracking them down. Either way, the tapes became a symbol of a new chapter in our life.
This all happened because a few people wanted to do whatever they could to help a family deal with loss; whether it’s giving up a few VHS tapes from one’s personal collection, or just making phone calls trying to engineer this plan, everyone involved had a huge part in the Christmas Miracle.
Saying it’s a Christmas Miracle is probably a little bit of a stretch for some, but good ol’ Don Cherry made our family feel quite special when he took the time to send us a couple of gifts.
Heading into Christmas in 2013, my dad will finally get what he originally asked for; Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em 1-25 all in one box set. Though he is still an avid collector of the VHS copies (I found the very first one at a Value Village a couple of months ago), he’s still missing a few, but we’re always on the lookout.
My friends always wonder why I defend Don Cherry every time we see him on Coach’s Corner. He may have difficulty pronouncing some last names, but the man has a special place in my family’s hearts. Sometimes we don’t agree, but he did a lot for our family, probably more than he could have ever anticipated. Plus, he dresses nice at times.
To the Sean McIndoes of the world who follow (and write about) the crazy antics Don Cherry is up to during the week, I hope that you remember my little story and know that no matter what Grapes’ opinions are, he is, in his words, “a beauty.” Those tapes showed us that starting a new chapter in our lives doesn’t mean we should forget about the past, and in fact, we should embrace it. That collection held high importance for 23 years for my father, and we’re not about to let a natural disaster change that.
Happy Holidays, everyone.
Kyle Muzyka is an aspiring journalist, co-hosting the weekly radio show The Timeout on CJSR FM in Edmonton, Alberta.